housekeepers in one way or another, and I am the chiefest
housekeeper of all."
When we joined the mainstream of mankind in the company
street, a woman behind us wished Dr. Breed a merry Christmas. Dr.
Breed turned to peer benignly into the sea of pale pies, and
identified the greeter as one Miss Francine Pefko. Miss Pefko was
twenty, vacantly pretty, and healthy--a dull normal.
In honor of the dulcitude of Christmastime, Dr. Breed invited
Miss Pefko to join us. He introduced her as the secretary of Dr.
Nilsak Horvath. He then told me who Horvath was. "The famous
surface chemist," he said, "the one who's doing such wonderful
things with films."
"What's new in surface chemistry?" I asked Miss Pefko. "God,"
she said, "don't ask me. I just type what he tells me to type."
And then she apologized for having said "God."
"Oh, I think you understand more than you let on," said Dr.
"Not me." Miss Pefko wasn't used to chatting with someone as
important as Dr. Breed and she was embarrassed. Her gait was
affected, becoming stiff and chickenlike. Her smile was glassy,
and she was ransacking her mind for something to say, finding
nothing in it but used Kleenex and costume jewelry.
"Well . . . ," rumbled Dr. Breed expansively, "how do you
like us, now that you've been with us--how long? Almost a year?"
"You scientists _think_ too much," blurted Miss Pefko. She
laughed idiotically. Dr. Breed's friendliness had blown every fuse
in her nervous system. She was no longer responsible. "You _all_
think too much."
A winded, defeated-looking fat woman in filthy coveralls
trudged beside us, hearing what Miss Pefko said. She turned to
examine Dr. Breed, looking at him with helpless reproach. She
hated people who thought too much. At that moment, she struck me
as an appropriate representative for almost all mankind.
The fat woman's expression implied that she would go crazy on
the spot if anybody did any more thinking.
"I think you'll find," said Dr. Breed, "that everybody does
about the same amount of thinking. Scientists simply think about
things in one way, and other people think about things in others."
"Ech," gurgled Miss Pefko emptily. "I take dictation from Dr.
Horvath and it's just like a foreign language. I don't think I'd
understand--even if I was to go to college. And here he's maybe
talking about something that's going to turn everything upside-
down and inside-out like the atom bomb.
"When I used to come home from school Mother used to ask me
what happened that day, and I'd tell her," said Miss Pefko. "Now I
come home from work and she asks me the same question, and all I
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can say is--" Miss Pefko shook her head and let her crimson lips
flap slackly-- "I dunno, I dunno, I dunno."
"If there's something you don't understand," urged Dr. Breed,
"ask Dr. Horvath to explain it. He's very good at explaining." He
turned to me. "Dr. Hoenikker used to say that any scientist who
couldn't explain to an eight-year-old what he was doing was a
"Then I'm dumber than an eight-year-old," Miss Pefko mourned.
"I don't even know what a charlatan is."
Back to Kindergarten 16
We climbed the four granite steps before the Research
Laboratory. The building itself was of unadorned brick and rose
six stories. We passed between two heavily-armed guards at the
Miss Pefko showed the guard on the left the pink
_confidential_ badge at the tip of her left breast.
Dr. Breed showed the guard on the right the black _top-
secret_ badge on his soft lapel. Ceremoniously, Dr. Breed put his
arm around me without actually touching me, indicating to the
guards that I was under his august protection and control.
I smiled at one of the guards. He did not smile back. There
was nothing funny about national security, nothing at all.
Dr. Breed, Miss Pefko, and I moved thoughtfully through the
Laboratory's grand foyer to the elevators.
"Ask Dr. Horvath to explain something sometime," said Dr.
Breed to Miss Pefko. "See if you don't get a nice, clear answer."
"He'd have to start back in the first grade--or maybe even
kindergarten," she said. "I missed a lot."
"We _all_ missed a lot," Dr. Breed agreed. "We'd _all_ do
well to start over again, preferably with kindergarten."
We watched the Laboratory's receptionist turn on the many
educational exhibits that lined the foyer's walls. The
receptionist was a tall, thin girl--icy, pale. At her crisp touch,
lights twinkled, wheels turned, flasks bubbled, bells rang.
"Magic," declared Miss Pefko.
"I'm sorry to hear a member of the Laboratory family using
that brackish, medieval word," said Dr. Breed. "Every one of those
exhibits explains itself. They're designed so as _not_ to be
mystifying. They're the very antithesis of magic."
"The very what of magic?"
"The exact opposite of magic."
"You couldn't prove it by me."
Dr. Breed looked just a little peeved. "Well," he said, "we
don't _want_ to mystify. At least give us credit for that."
The Girl Pool 17
Dr. Breed's secretary was standing on her desk in his outer
office tying an accordion-pleated Christmas bell to the ceiling
"Look here, Naomi," cried Dr. Breed, "we've gone six months
without a fatal accident! Don't you spoil it by falling off the
Miss Naomi Faust was a merry, desiccated old lady. I suppose
she had served Dr. Breed for almost all his life, and her life,
too. She laughed. "I'm indestructible. And, even if I did fall,
Christmas angels would catch me."
"They've been known to miss."
Two paper tendrils, also accordion-pleated, hung down from
the clapper of the bell. Miss Faust pulled one. It unfolded
stickily and became a long banner with a message written on it.
"Here," said Miss Faust, handing the free end to Dr. Breed, "pull
it the rest of the way and tack the end to the bulletin board."
Dr. Breed obeyed, stepping back to read the banner's message.
"Peace on Earth!" he read out loud heartily.
Miss Faust stepped down from her desk with the other tendril,
unfolding it. "Good Will Toward Men!" the other tendril said.
"By golly," chuckled Dr. Breed, "they've dehydrated
Christmas! The place looks festive, very festive."
"And I remembered the chocolate bars for the Girl Pool, too,"
she said. "Aren't you proud of me?"
Dr. Breed touched his forehead, dismayed by his
forgetfulness. "Thank God for that! It slipped my mind."
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"We mustn't ever forget that," said Miss Faust. "It's
tradition now--Dr. Breed and his chocolate bars for the Girl Pool
at Christmas." She explained to me that the Girl Pool was the
typing bureau in the Laboratory's basement. "The girls belong to
anybody with access to a dictaphone."
All year long, she said, the girls of the Girl Pool listened
to the faceless voices of scientists on dictaphone records--
records brought in by mail girls. Once a year the girls left their
cloister of cement block to go a-caroling--to get their chocolate
bars from Dr. Asa Breed.
"They serve science, too," Dr. Breed testified, "even though
they may not understand a word of it. God bless them, every one!"
The Most Valuable Commodity on Earth 18
When we got into Dr. Breed's inner office, I attempted to put
my thoughts in order for a sensible interview. I found that my
mental health had not improved. And, when I started to ask Dr.
Breed questions about the day of the bomb, I found that the
public-relations centers of my brain had been suffocated by booze
and burning cat fur. Every question I asked implied that the
creators of the atomic bomb had been criminal accessories to
murder most foul.
Dr. Breed was astonished, and then he got very sore. He drew
back from me and he grumbled, "I gather you don't like scientists
"I wouldn't say that, sir."
"All your questions seem aimed at getting me to admit that
scientists are heartless, conscienceless, narrow boobies,
indifferent to the fate of the rest of the human race, or maybe
not really members of the human race at all."
"That's putting it pretty strong."
"No stronger that what you're going to put in your book,
apparently. I thought that what you were after was a fair,
objective biography of Felix Hoenikker--certainly as significant a
task as a young writer could assign himself in this day and age.
But no, you come here with preconceived notions, about mad
scientists. Where did you ever get such ideas? From the funny
"From Dr. Hoenikker's son, to name one source."
"Newton," I said. I had little Newt's letter with me, and I
showed it to him. "How small is Newt, by the way?"
"No bigger than an umbrella stand," said Dr. Breed, reading
Newt's letter and frowning.
"The other two children are normal?"
"Of course! I hate to disappoint you, but scientists have
children just like anybody else's children."
I did my best to calm down Dr. Breed, to convince him that I
was really interested in an accurate portrait of Dr. Hoenikker.
"I've come here with no other purpose than to set down exactly
what you tell me about Dr. Hoenikker. Newt's letter was just a
beginning, and I'll balance off against it whatever you can tell
"I'm sick of people misunderstanding what a scientist is,
what a scientist does."
"I'll do my best to clear up the misunderstanding."
"In this country most people don't even understand what pure
"I'd appreciate it if you'd tell me what it is."
"It isn't looking for a better cigarette filter or a softer
face tissue or a longer-lasting house paint, God help us.
Everybody talks about research and practically nobody in this
country's doing it. We're one of the few companies that actually
hires men to do pure research. When most other companies brag
about their research, they're talking about industrial hack
technicians who wear white coats, work out of cookbooks, and dream
up an improved windshield wiper for next year's Oldsmobile."
"But here . . . ?"
"Here, and shockingly few other places in this country, men
are paid to increase knowledge, to work toward no end but that."
"That's very generous of General Forge and Foundry Company."
"Nothing generous about it. New knowledge is the most
valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with,
the richer we become."
Had I been a Bokononist then, that statement would have made
No More Mud 19
"Do you mean," I said to Dr. Breed, "that nobody in this
Laboratory is ever told what to work on? Nobody even _suggests_
what they work on?"
"People suggest things all the time, but it isn't in the
nature of a pure-research man to pay any attention to suggestions.
His head is full of projects of his own, and that's the way we
"Did anybody ever try to suggest projects to Dr. Hoenikker?"
"Certainly. Admirals and generals in particular. They looked
upon him as a sort of magician who could make America invincible
with a wave of his wand. They brought all kinds of crackpot
schemes up here--still do. The only thing wrong with the schemes
is that, given our present state of knowledge, the schemes won't
work. Scientists on the order of Dr. Hoenikker are supposed to
fill the little gaps. I remember, shortly before Felix died, there
was a Marine general who was hounding him to do something about
"The Marines, after almost two-hundred years of wallowing in
mud, were sick of it," said Dr. Breed. "The general, as their
spokesman, felt that one of the aspects of progress should be that
Marines no longer had to fight in mud."
"What did the general have in mind?"
"The absence of mud. No more mud."
"I suppose," I theorized, "it might be possible with
mountains of some sort of chemical, or tons of some sort of
machinery . . ."
"What the general had in mind was a little pill or a little
machine. Not only were the Marines sick of mud, they were sick of
carrying cumbersome objects. They wanted something _little_ to
carry for a change."
"What did Dr. Hoenikker say?"
"In his playful way, and _all_ his ways were playful, Felix
suggested that there might be a single grain of something-- even a
microscopic grain--that could make infinite expanses of muck,
marsh, swamp, creeks, pools, quicksand, and mire as solid as this
Dr. Breed banged his speckled old fist on the desk. The desk
was a kidney-shaped, sea green steel affair. "One Marine could
carry more than enough of the stuff to free an armored division
bogged down in the everglades. According to Felix, one Marine
could carry enough of the stuff to do that under the nail of his
"You would say so, I would say so--practically everybody
would say so. To Felix, in his playful way, it was entirely
possible. The miracle of Felix--and I sincerely hope you'll put
this in your book somewhere--was that he always approached old
puzzles as though they were brand new."
"I feel like Francine Pefko now," I said, "and all the girls
in the Girl Pool, too. Dr. Hoenikker could never have explained to
me how something that could be carried under a fingernail could
make a swamp as solid as your desk."
"I told you what a good explainer Felix was . . ."
"Even so . . ."
"He was able to explain it to me," said Dr. Breed, "and I'm
sure I can explain it to you. The puzzle is how to get Marines out
of the mud--right?"
"All right," said Dr. Breed, "listen carefully. Here we go."
"There are several ways," Dr. Breed said to me, "in which
certain liquids can crystallize--can freeze--several ways in which
their atoms can stack and lock in an orderly, rigid way."
That old man with spotted hands invited me to think of the
several ways in which cannonballs might be stacked on a courthouse
lawn, of the several ways in which oranges might be packed into a
"So it is with atoms in crystals, too; and two different
crystals of the same substance can have quite different physical
He told me about a factory that had been growing big crystals
of ethylene diamine tartrate. The crystals were useful in certain
manufacturing operations, he said. But one day the factory
discovered that the crystals it was growing no longer had the
properties desired. The atoms had begun to stack and lock--to
freeze--in different fashion. The liquid that was crystallizing
hadn't changed, but the crystals it was forming were, as far as
industrial applications went, pure junk.
How this had come about was a mystery. The theoretical
villain, however, was what Dr. Breed called "a seed." He meant by
that a tiny grain of the undesired crystal pattern. The seed,
which had come from God-only-knows-where, taught the atoms the
novel way in which to stack and lock, to crystallize, to freeze.
"Now think about cannonballs on a courthouse lawn or about
oranges in a crate again," he suggested. And he helped me to see
that the pattern of the bottom layers of cannonballs or of oranges
determined how each subsequent layer would stack and lock. "The
bottom layer is the seed of how every cannonball or every orange
that comes after is going to behave, even to an infinite number of
cannonballs or oranges."
"Now suppose," chortled Dr. Breed, enjoying himself, "that
there were many possible .ways in which water could crystallize,
could freeze. Suppose that the sort of ice we skate upon and put
into highballs--what we might call _ice-one_--is only one of
several types of ice. Suppose water always froze as _ice-one_ on
Earth because it had never had a seed to teach it how to form
_ice-two_, _ice-three_, _ice-four_ . . . ? And suppose," he rapped
on his desk with his old hand again, "that there were one form,
which we will call _ice-nine_--a crystal as hard as this desk--
with a melting point of, let us say, one-hundred degrees
Fahrenheit, or, better still, a melting point of one-hundred-and-
"All right, I'm still with you," I said.
Dr. Breed was interrupted by whispers in his outer office,
whispers loud and portentous. They were the sounds of the Girl
The girls were preparing to sing in the outer office.
And they did sing, as Dr. Breed and I appeared in the
doorway. Each of about a hundred girls had made herself into a
choirgirl by putting on a collar of white bond paper, secured by a
paper clip. They sang beautifully.
I was surprised and mawkishly heartbroken. I am always moved
by that seldom-used treasure, the sweetness with which most girls
The girls sang "O Little Town of Bethlehem." I am not likely
to forget very soon their interpretation of the line:
"The hopes and fears of all the years are here with us
The Marines March On 21
When old Dr. Breed, with the help of Miss Faust, had passed
out the Christmas chocolate bars to the girls, we returned to his
There, he said to me, "Where were we? Oh yes!" And that old
man asked me to think of United States Marines in a Godforsaken
"Their trucks and tanks and howitzers are wallowing," he
complained, "sinking in stinking miasma and ooze."
He raised a finger and winked at me. "But suppose, young man,
that one Marine had with him a tiny capsule containing a seed of
_ice-nine_, a new way for the atoms of water to stack and lock, to
freeze. If that Marine threw that seed into the nearest puddle . .
"The puddle would freeze?" I guessed.
"And all the muck around the puddle?"
"It would freeze?"
"And all the puddles in the frozen muck?"
"They would freeze?"
"And the pools and the streams in the frozen muck?"
"They would freeze?"
"You _bet_ they would!" he cried. "And the United States
Marines would rise from the swamp and march on!"
Member of the Yellow Press 22
"There _is_ such stuff?" I asked.
"No, no, no, no," said Dr. Breed, losing patience with me
again. "I only told you all this in order to give you some insight
into the extraordinary novelty of the ways in which Felix was
likely to approach an old problem. What I've just told you is what
he told the Marine general who was hounding him about mud.
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